It might not come as too much of a surprise to learn that I was kind of a weird kid. For a portion of my youth, my family would drive down to Singapore where we’d meet up with extended family members and venture on a vacation together. Riding high on the success of a couple of short cruises to Indonesia, the adults tossed around Disneyland as an ambitious follow-up. I remember thinking to myself, “But Disneyland sounds so boring, it’s just going to be a bunch of kids running around.”
“I haven’t got the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.”
Before he became a contributor at The New Yorker or a best-selling author, I discovered David Sedaris where so many of his other fans have, on National Public Radio, and through Ira Glass’s spectacular radio program and podcast, This American Life (you can find many of his past contributions here). From there, I went on to read his essays, all of his books and attended live readings (read: performances — because, undoubtedly, that’s what they are) on what are now three separate occasions.
Before I’d ever visited New York City, my first introduction was through television. More so the late night variety shows than the procedurals. And none more so than the venerable live broadcast of Saturday Night Live, with its ever changing cast and crew of comedians and writers plucked, seemingly at random, from the inestimable local theaters, clubs and performance spaces found in every nook and cranny of the city. These establishments, where so much raw talent is skimmed off the top of a limitless, un-homogenized pool of hopes, dreams and aspirations, are the incubators for creativity, experimentation and collaboration.
But it’s not all roses, as they say. New York City is a place where you’ll find incredible successes but also abject failures. You may stumble across the blueprints for achieving unparalleled fame and fortune, but you ignore the cautionary tales of ruin and misery at your own peril. New York City is hard. It’s survival of the fittest. And you don’t survive long on your own.
We’ve touched upon these themes before, when we covered a screening of Don’t Think Twice, which you can find here. But watching a film or reading a synopsis is one thing, seeing it play out in person is entirely another.
First Comes Love: This Election Blows at Lynn Redgrave Theater gave us a bird’s eye view. First Comes Love is a series borne of Kyle Ayers’ ingenious idea to solicit pornographic movie scripts from a fake ad he placed on Craigslist. The response was overwhelming, providing him with so much material that he decided to turn it into a show. The unedited (and sometimes previously unread) scripts are acted out by comedians and actors with improvised costumes and props. Presented by CounterCulture, First Comes Love: This Election Blows was a selection of political election-themed scripts from the treasure trove.
While the idea of watching scenes from amateur adult movie screenwriters might seem a little raunchy, the essence of First Comes Love was far less about sex than one would expect. The atmosphere created by the close-knit band of comedic players was fun and lighthearted. Lynn and I laughed, and laughed hard, at various points throughout the show. The material was mostly weak (remember, these were responses to a Craigslist ad), but it was the intense expression of camaraderie between the cast, the contagious fun and enthusiasm they exuded, the blind trust they placed in each other, and the irrepressible joy they shared with us, the audience, that made it a unique experience.
You can stalk their website for a return visit to New York City, but First Comes Love is now also a podcast on Howl. Just maybe don’t play it during Thanksgiving dinner. Or maybe do.
Pair it with:
Dinner at Minetta Tavern
I don’t really do “crawls”. And I don’t say that with disdain. There’s nothing wrong with them or with people who enjoy them. But I tend to feel going from one establishment after another over a single night numbs the palate. I do, however, pay close attention to “Best of” lists, and will, from time to time, methodically strike from the list different iterations of a culinary item over a relatively short period of time. Burgers are one such item. And I’ve tried many.
Until recently, Spotted Pig’s chargrilled burger with Roquefort cheese held the top ranking, unchallenged and by a wide margin. That is, until I visited the West Village and Keith McNally’s legendary French bistro, Minetta Tavern.
Steaks are excellent here, but let’s not waste time. The reason for this stop is the Black Label Burger — easily the best burger I’ve ever had. And yet, it’s the definition of simplicity: a beef patty allegedly consisting of a proprietary mix of NY strip, skirt steak and brisket, sauteed onions and a Balthazar Bakery seeded brioche bun. That’s it. And it’s incredible.
Opened in 1937, and purchased and renovated in 2009 by McNally, the space is filled to rafters with its charismatic ambiance. With the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Eugene O’Neill, E. E. Cummings, Dylan Thomas, and Joe Gould, as well as various other famous writers, poets, and pugilist regularly frequenting the tavern over its storied history, it’s a special and unique place to share an incredible meal.
Most kids remember getting up early to watch Saturday Morning Cartoons while they noshed on their breakfast cereal of choice, but I remember eagerly anticipating Sunday mornings at 10 am, which is when Fashion File would come on in Malaysia. I’d plop myself in front of the TV and watch as models strutted the runway in Versace, Lacroix and Gaultier. To say the industry has evolved since then is quite the understatement! Fashion has become more accessible than ever, and now addicts like myself can easily live stream runway shows, refresh social media feeds, or check blogs that are being updated every few minutes during major events like New York Fashion Week.
Designers have already had to increase the number of shows and reduce their production cycles to keep up with fast fashion retailers, but this year designers have kicked it up several notches, with “see now, buy now” being the catchphrase. While most New York Fashion Week events are still not open to the public, this direct-to-consumer approach has reverberated throughout. There has been a move to be more inclusive: retailers, beauty brands and even hotel chains are getting in on the action and hosting fun New York Fashion Week events that anyone can attend.
Standing in the small bend on Commerce Street in the West Village, waiting for the doors of the Cherry Lane Theatre to open, I take a quick glance around and note that Hasan Minhaj’s demographic is mostly what you’d expect: young and ethnic (myself included – well, definitely ethnic, young, not so much) . And unsurprisingly, he starts out his performance acknowledging the “brown people” in the audience. I cringe a little, fearing we’re in for a stale series of immigrant jokes that panders to a growing minority. Thankfully, it pulls out of that treacherous territory quickly.
Being the proud owners of lush gardens and beautifully landscaped backyards, our parents probably have ten green thumbs between them. But apparently that’s a recessive gene. Because the two of us? We’ve killed cacti. (Yes, plural. More than one cactus, on more than one occasion.) So instead of putting a sad ficus in the corner of our cramped apartment, to get our green fix we make our way out to the New York Botanical Garden and enjoy the Best Pretend Backyard Ever.